pct Update #10 - canada!
Well, this update comes to you from beautiful Canada, just beyond the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Six months and several thousand miles of hiking later, we’ve finally reached the other end of this adventure. I have a lot of thoughts and emotions right now, but first let me catch you up on the last 400 miles of hiking since I sent out the previous update!
The Rainbow Cafe in the Woods
We past left off in Trout Lake, wa, after which we had a short 65 mile stretch into Packwood. We continued to see lots of great mushrooms, and the overcast, wet weather started to feel like it was easing up a bit. One morning, about 3 miles into our hike, we came upon a dirt road that we needed to cross. But there was a very colorful cardboard sign for trail magic that said “Rainbow Cafe.” We sauntered down the dirt a few hundred feet to find a campfire, lots of hikers, and a friendly family of three making eggs, coffee, and biscuits and gravy for hikers. Getting surprised by these acts of kindness in the middle of nowhere just never ceases to amaze me. Biscuits and gravy were an especially unique, unexpected treat, even for trail magic!
Several days later, after hitching into the town of Packwood, one of the few restaurants in town was Cruiser’s Pizza. While we were eating, we saw that same trail magic family in a booth across the restaurant, which was a nice surprise, because for once it gave us the opportunity to repay some trail magic kindness, this time with beer and strawberry ice cream. Yum.
After Packwood we had a hundred mile stretch into Snoqualmie Pass. We started to get a lot of true “Washington weather” at this point with overcast days, and frequent light rains. That’s not uncommon generally in the Pacific Northwest, but when you’re hiking in, around, and on top of the Cascade Mountains, the weather gets even colder, even rainier, and even more unpredictable. On the night before town, we hit afternoon trail magic. It cut into our mileage goal because we spent so much time enjoying the hot food and company under an awning, but it was delightful as always. In the midst of it, it really started to rain, and almost all the hikers dispersed quickly, leaving to make a last push to wherever they planned to camp for the night, and hopefully get their camp setup before everything got too wet.
Andy, one other hiker, and I were all that were left, so the angels told us we had to eat more hamburgers and sausage. We said okay, because we like to be helpful. Ha! They also made me a pack cover out of a garbage bag, which was great because in all the rain we’ve been seeing I’ve noticed my pack isn’t quite as waterproof as I hoped. We made camp in the rain and hiked into Snoqualmie Pass the next morning.
After a day of rest and recovery in Snoqualmie Pass, we headed out on a 70 mile stretch to Leavenworth. The miles went by steadily and somewhat uneventfully. We’re really starting to feel strong by this point and the miles seem to go by quickly. We had more cold, wet, rainy weather, but some incredible views above the clouds. The Cascades are beautiful.
Now let me tell you about Leavenworth; it’s quite the place! It’s very touristy, in an over-the-top Bavarian styled veneer kind of way. We ate Ham Hock, bratwurst, and drank Oktoberfest beer to celebrate. Other hiker friends had also made it here, so went out for a wonderful night of live music and drinks with them.
As always, I wish I had more pictures of everything, but looking back on it now, I find it fairly funny that one of the few pictures I did manage to take is Andy posing with the giant hamhock we got as soon as we made it to town.
It started raining A lot on the morning we planned to leave, and it was forecasted to continue all day, so we took a second zero. There was an ice cream shop with interesting flavors, and homemade waffle cones, which we got to know very well by the end of our second zero in this town.
From Leavenworth we had our longest single stretch on the entire trail - 130 miles to Winthrop. It was also our coldest, rainiest stretch yet. On the second day, it began raining and didn’t stop for over 24 hours. I think this likely beats out the summer mosquitos in Oregon for causing the most mental anguish.
There was a particularly difficult moment at the end of the day, when we were setting up the tent in the dark, and pouring rain, and I was imagining our usual dinner routine of sitting outside the tent, in the biting cold, being rained on, not being able to see, and just waiting for water to boil. Andy suggested we change dinner plans and use lunch wrap materials so we could just crawl in the tent as soon as we finished pitching it. It was quite possibly the best sounding plan I’ve heard in my whole life, and we quickly did exactly that, even getting into our sleeping outfits and sleeping bags before making dinner. In retrospect, eating a cold hot dog, wrapped in a tortilla, in a slightly damp tent and sleeping bag, in the biting cold and rain, still sounds a bit dismal! But something about the juxtaposition of that small luxury with the alternative, just made rebound from the mental slog of the day with disproportionate glee. It’s strange, but that gleeful moment eating a hot dog in the tent remains one of my most vivid memories from the entire six months of hiking.
By the next morning a bit of dread began to creep in again though, with the rain still coming down, and the inevitable prospect of getting out of tent approaching quickly. You try and keep the important things as dry as possible, like the inside of the tent, your sleeping bag, and your down jacket. But it’s really difficult, and the wetness seems to gradually infiltrate everything. I was even somewhat used to putting on cold, wet socks in the morning by this point, but what really got me were the wet gloves - cold, wet hands all day was really tough.
Eventually the sun came back though, about 11am that next day, and we promptly emptied our packs onto the top of a giant boulder, not knowing how long the respite would last, but hoping we could dry everything out quickly. We got things mostly dry, and life went on! We also finally saw a (black) bear this stretch - the first one we’d seen all trail.
A Birthday in Winthrop
On the morning we got to the hitch point to get into Winthrop, it was Andy’s birthday! We were so excited to get into town to celebrate. Unfortunately, it started raining that morning (again!), so we were standing on the side of the road with our thumbs out, cold, wet, and more than a bit dirty from the last 5 miles of hiking on sloshy, rainy trail. Having amassed a fair number of data points on hitchhiking by this point, I know that the average person is somewhat unlikely to stop and pick up a couple of dirty hikers on the side of the road. I can only imagine what happens to the odds in the rain, when said hikers are sopping wet!
But, as usual, human kindness won out. We actually got really lucky and got a hitch in short order. What kind souls they were!
We got to town early, in time to get breakfast, that rarity of trail delights for us - hot coffee! We got a room for the night, explored the Western-themed town, and celebrated a birthday evening in a surprisingly hip cocktail bar. Spirits were getting high by this point, as we geared ourselves up for the final 60 miles to the border, and northern terminus of the trail.
Hitching out of the town the following morning, we ended up getting a ride from the owner of the cocktail bar we enjoyed so much. She gave us a ride halfway back to the trail, and we thanked her profusely for both the ride, and the drinks, before parting ways. Then, out our thumbs went again. We caught our second hitch from an interesting man headed towards Seattle to testify at some kind of government hearing on ecological matters. He was full of interesting information, and was only too happy to tell us everything we wanted to know about larch trees, as well as how the glaciers contributed to the formation of big geological features in the area.
The Final Countdown
We made the last 60 miles over a few days, actually enjoying some dry weather most of the time. But while it wasn’t raining, it was getting quite cold by this point. I spent most of the days hiking with either my rain jacket or my down jacket on, or sometimes both. The last night we camped about 3.7 miles from the border/terminus, and made a feast for dinner. Our last trail dinner, and we even pulled off a mixed berry cobbler. Yum yum yum! Another hiker camped next to us asked us if we could check the weather on our Garmin for him, to which we replied, “You can check the weather on these things?!” I think it’s hilarious that we discovered this literally 3.7 miles from the end of a 2000 mile hike.
The next morning we bounced out of bed to discover hints of snow around the tent! Nothing could shake our excitement now though.
With respect to planning during the past six months, we’ve been trying to finish before the “unpredictable snowstorm season” picks up in the Cascades. And here, on the very day we finish, begins the first light snowstorm of the season! Now that’s timing! After getting to the terminus, we hiked another 8 miles into Manning Park, Canada, all the while with the snow coming down more and more densely. It was just starting to stick to the trees as we got to the resort, overcome with joy.
We managed to get a cabin for a night at the resort, and counted ourselves lucky, as the resort was quite unexpectedly full due to a wedding. Other hikers were being turned away at the front desk, left to find camping spots outside in the snowstorm. We discovered our cabin had a second bedroom with four bunk beds, so naturally we began walking around the resort, looking for cold, wet, bedraggled hikers in need of a bed. It turned into a glorious evening of celebrating the achievement together, and reminiscing about experiences, both the good and the bad, along the way.
And that brings us to today. It’s one day after we finished this adventure, I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to have gone on it. It’s been both challenging and rewarding in ways I couldn’t have imagined six months ago. The Cascades especially touched me with their grandeur and beauty, but what I think I’ll remember most about this experience is the incredible kindness and community that complete strangers have gifted us over the past few months. From strangers trusting us enough to give us a ride in their cars, to strangers surprising us with meals in the forest, to strangers just bonding with us in a small-town diner over a shared love of adventure. All of it warms the heart, and I won’t forget it. Hopefully someday I can even repay some of it :)
Thanks for accompanying me on this trek, and giving me a reason to document as much of it as possible. Now it’s time to rediscover the great indoors, and I can’t wait to see all of you again soon!!!
Happy trails and until the next hike,